“I wanted to grow up and be just like my mother.”
Yuri Tuppince, a director of strategic partnerships at 2U and one-time U.S. Army Reservist, is reflecting on her youth as a “military brat.” She grew up the oldest girl of four siblings raised by a mother who, at the time, held a rare position for a woman: U.S. Army drill sergeant. “I’m now literally her mini-me,” Yuri beams.
Yuri comes from a long line of veterans: her brother, grandfather, and uncles were also in the military. As a non-commissioned officer, Yuri’s mom SFC Annie Walker (RET) spent almost 20 years in the Army. Through her subsequent work in Petersburg, Virginia’s public school system, Annie eventually circled back into military service, as she’s now a deputy commissioner for the Virginia Department of Veteran Services.
“You just imagine my mom going through advanced training like, wow.” Yuri says. “With all that she did, she took me and my siblings along for the ride. We traveled overseas with her and everything.”
As Yuri and her siblings got older, their mom wanted the kids to establish roots. So while Annie continued to travel with the Army, Yuri’s aunt helped finish raising them in South Carolina. “Once I was 17, my mom felt it was a good idea for me to enlist in the military. She was a drill sergeant, so whatever she says goes, right?” Yuri laughs. “In my junior year of high school I signed up. Over that summer, I did basic training at Fort Jackson and then served weekends and two weeks each summer on post until I graduated.”
Yuri's mom SFC Annie Walker (RET)—today, and back in her Army days
From an Unexpected Career Turn to Manifesting Her Vision Board
Initially thinking she wanted to be a doctor, Yuri began training to become a medical specialist in the U.S. Army Reserve, the equivalent of a registered nurse in the civilian world. She earned a ROTC scholarship to Virginia State University, but after a year she felt a different calling. Choosing to leave school, Yuri translated her military skills into a career as a corrections officer, during which time she got married and had children of her own.
“My life was still ruled by policies and procedures, and I was able to generally operate in a militaristic style, which is what I had been used to my entire life,” Yuri recalls. “But down the line, I knew I needed a career that would help me contribute to society and build the same type of legacy that my mom built for us. I had such an amazing example of what a parent could be and just didn’t feel I was living up to that.”
Yuri headed back to Virginia State to finish her bachelor’s degree, followed by an online master’s in criminal justice through University of Phoenix, with an intent to become a probation officer. But her plans took another turn when her admissions counselor suggested she apply to be the same at their Richmond branch campus. From there, Yuri moved up the ranks and on to director positions with other schools, learning all aspects of the student life cycle along the way. Her accomplishments eventually led her to 2U, joining as a student success manager for the University of Richmond. “It had been a long-time dream of mine to work for that school,” she says. “They were on my vision board and everything.”
Annie surrounded by Yuri (top row, second from left) and her loving family
Bridging the Gap and Leading the Way
Throughout her new-found career in education, Yuri continued her own passion for lifelong learning by pursuing a Ph.D. in criminal justice. She now teaches an online course in leadership and ethics through Liberty University. “It turns out that the vast majority of my students are military,” Yuri says. “They’re in places like Afghanistan or Kuwait, serving across the globe and pursuing their education through my class. I absolutely love it, and being on the academic side gives me another lens of the student experience to apply back with 2U.”
Through her current role as a director of strategic partnerships, Yuri says she’s able to get her “military fix” through the professional connections she makes with partners like Strategic Staffing Solutions and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
“I’m a bridge—a connector,” Yuri says. “I build relationships with organizations that have all these tech roles going unfulfilled because they don’t know where to find talent. Meanwhile, every three months we’ve got amazing talent graduating from boot camps. So that’s where I come in. I connect the two and help students find employment that’s going to change their lives.”
Annie with her bronzed drill-sergeant hat posing for a military women's exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery
A Month of Appreciation, Commemoration, and Surprises
The month of May gives Yuri plenty to celebrate. For one, it’s Military Appreciation Month, which she says “just deepens my own sense of service. Like, how else can I be of assistance to people? Whether that’s in the classes I teach or the work I do with 2U, it helps me remember that what I do is important.”
This Sunday is also Mother’s Day, which this year gives Yuri an opportunity to honor her mom in a unique way, since this article on The Latest is a “surprise gift” for her special day. “My mom is very rarely celebrated for all of her accomplishments, so whatever you may think about me, multiply that by 100 for her,” Yuri laughs.
Looking to Memorial Day, Yuri and her family hope to once again travel from their home in Colonial Heights, VA, to Washington, DC, so that she and her siblings can join their mother for something even more special. They’re all eager to see Annie’s drill sergeant photos, which have been part of an exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery, inside the Military Women’s Memorial, for three years now.
“Many people have no idea how women have contributed to our freedom,” Yuri says, “and to our rights as individuals to live the lives that we live. That museum puts it on full display, showing a string of women who’ve done amazing things in the military and who are now just walking around like normal people. You’d see one of them today and think, ‘Oh look at that nice little grandma,’ without any idea they were once a badass fighter pilot in a war.”
“I Am My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper”
With COVID still a global concern, Yuri’s unsure if all the kids and grandkids can make their new DC family tradition a reality this year, but she’s hopeful something will work out.
“All I know is that I really care about people, and that’s the biggest thing I think I’ve learned from the military and from my mom,” Yuri says. “How she raised us, and the experiences she started me on with the Army, woke up whatever natural leadership inclination I had inside of me. I’ve learned how to be personally accountable and supportive of others—I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper. I’m always thinking of the total experience and how to help others complete their own mission in life.”
Yuri ends on the sweetest of notes: “Thanks, Mommy—I love you!”
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